My grandmother used to spend all her time embroidering tableclothes and napkins, the colourful threads shaping into intricate flowers and leaves under her crafty fingers. I remember how I thought that this must be what grandmothers do, sit in the small room on their bed with a stiff back and sew, the monotony only broken by the occasional reading of the hilariously mispronounced Lion King to the giggling grandkids. I am sorry I laughed at you, grandma. Even now, twenty years later, I remember how I learned that time was measured in years when your aging mind was faltering and you asked ‘what year are we writing now’ as you scribbled down something. And even now, twenty years later, I have a sample of your handycraft in my drawers, your tableclothes long discoloured and misshaped from the many cycles in the washing machine, yes, we use washing machines now, and the cigarette burn holes that tell a tale of my air polluted childhood.
Years later after you were silently gone and the naive child that I was never queried your absence, we moved again to a new flat. Looking back, I guess I adopted the elderly lady opposite the hallway as my new grandma, and for this, again, I am sorry grandma. She did not embroider tableclothes, she made them. Using a weird looking hook and thread so thin I could barely see it, she crocheted the most beautiful lace patterns out of a spool. It was there that I learned how to crochet, although the 0.3mm hooks were too small for my clumsy fingers, and my chains came out large and wobbly as opposed to her dainty pretties. I remember vaguely as if my mother joined in my education and taught me how to knit and crochet other than too difficult tableclothes. For some reason, I preferred using a single hook, and when many years later I found myself on an e-bay shopping spree, I bough thick thread and a bunch of crochet hooks.
But the child started to grow up, and school took over my life. The upside of this new all-time-consuming necessity was that I learned how to read and write, thus paving the path for new passions. First, I would become a book worm, and after a while I attempted to put pen to paper not only when it was for homework. I began keeping diaries, however pathetic they read now a decade later choke full of teenage moanings. And I began writing stories, especially once we had a computer at home and I had the convenience of typing. A rivalry began between me and a classmate – whose essays were read out loud in literature class, who was commended for their homework. I wanted to be good, I wanted to be acknowledged, and I enrolled on literary contests and story writing workshops. The rival never did so, and I felt cheated that only I would take our contest seriously. I wrote a story for the workshop which, to my great pleasure and humility was read out loud to all to listen to, and the editor of the literary magazine who held the workshop offered a once in a lifetime opportunity – change the ending, and he will print it. I didn’t change it.
Years later, I abandoned literature and writing for a new passion and here I am, 25 and unpublished, while the rival has a creative degree and had her name appear in several prestigious magazines. Somehow, when the pangs of jealousy and thoughts of what-ifs rise, I am now able to slap them over twice and move on. I have paved myself a new path, one that may only involve looking outside in the literary world, but I can be creative on my own terms, without an editor’s ‘friendly’ suggestions to change my style, or readers’ accusations of being outdated or boring.
Over the years I have played with coloured clay or erasable pens if the mood strikes. I have decorated Christmas cakes that bely a need for my self expression. I have crocheted baby toys and pillowcases, I have wrote poems and short stories. I may have missed the opportunity to formalise or commercialise my creative interests through university and publishing, but along the road, I realised something. I am doing this for myself. And that is okay.